The Importance of Location

location.image.2014We recently put out a survey to try and get to the bottom of how customers feel about the location of contact centres. The results are in and UK businesses would do well to take notice because there are some strong messages.

How important to you is it that a company’s contact centre is based in the UK?”

We asked 500 randomly chosen people to answer this question on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not important and 5 being very important. A staggering 57.70% of respondents answered 5, more than all the other options put together! The percentage of respondents answering 1 ranged from just 7.35% in the 65+ age group to 25% of 25-34 year olds.

There are many reasons people tend to prefer UK-based contact centres. Often they feel that they have experienced better service domestically than from foreign contact centres. We don’t know what proportion may be attributed to a real, perceived or even assumed experience of bad service. Another contributing factor may be the British media’s obsession with foreign contact centres ‘stealing British jobs’.

As far as UK businesses are concerned, the reason for customers’ opinions should be irrelevant. What is important are preferences they do have, and it is clear that UK contact centres are favoured over foreign ones.

This preference is nothing new. A 2012 YouGov survey found that while 55% of people do not trust UK contact centres to keep their data safe, this figure jumps to 83% when asked the same question about foreign contact centres. This could be due to a real or perceived lack of adequate laws governing the storage of personal data in such countries, simply a xenophobic mistrust of foreign accented staff, or a combination of both. Once again, the reasoning, right or wrong, makes little difference to what this means for UK companies.

Are opinions changing though?

The data from our survey shows that the 24-35 age group feels significantly less strongly about the importance of contact centres being located in the UK. While it is easy to put this down to new generations coming of age and the changing demographic landscape being more relaxed to globalisation and multiculturalism in general, the 18-24 age group does not share this opinion.

So, are other factors at play? Perhaps today’s 25-34 demographic abides by a higher than previously seen code of political correctness, making them reluctant to be so strongly against foreign contact centres as young adults in a modern world where we’re told we should be embracing globalisation. A closer look reveals that this may indeed be the case, with the 25-34 year olds having the highest percentage of 4 answers, just shy of double, as many as each other age group except for the 35-44s, who may also suffer this political correctness influence to a lesser degree. It is difficult to explain why this is not reflected in the 18-24 age group, but it could be put down to these years being a less ‘settled’ period in one’s life where full maturity has not yet been reached and a desire not to offend has not been developed to the same level.

Of all the age groups, the over 55+ group, was definitely the least happy with foreign contact centres. This could easily be explained by over 55s using contact centres to contact companies more than other age groups, thus having more opportunities for bad experiences.

Changes Already in the Works

In fact, after the boom of the foreign contact centre in the early and mid-00s, more and more UK companies are bringing their contact centres back to the UK after facing a backlash from customers who feel even more powerless than before. As just one of many examples, Britain’s largest mobile operator EE announced earlier this year they’d be scaling back contact centres in South Africa and the Philippines by moving 1,000 jobs back to the UK. This is not an isolated event, and the last couple of years have seen more and more of these stories emerging.

In fact the trend of contact centres being moved back to the UK is nothing particularly new. In just 2007, the BBC reported in this article a phenomenon of offshore contact centres being closed due to newly understood false economies involving lower overheads and customer alienation. It talks of a “consumer backlash” against UK companies who moved their contact centres offshore, even citing a survey where just 4% of people had a good experience dealing with a contact centre as a result of the exodus.

Another survey asked whether customers would rather receive a 10% discount or be provided with a service from a UK-based contact centre, and only 26% opted for the 10% discount. It also asked if customers would rather their contact be answered immediately by a foreign contact centre, or wait an additional 3 minutes for a UK contact centre, and 71% said they would prefer to wait. The same survey also tried to establish what reasons people have for preferring UK contact centres, and the winner with nearly 3 times more votes than any of the other 4 options was the “Lower Quality Service”.

What Does It All Mean?

The data we’ve poured over in this article tells us that financial institutions with UK contact centres have a definite advantage over their competitors with foreign contact centres. The value of having a domestically located contact centre even goes beyond product pricing. This begs the question – is it worth moving contact centres abroad to reduce costs and keep prices low? The answer ultimately keeps coming back to a resounding no.


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